A gluten free guide to Paris
If you have been lucky enough to cast your eyes over my healing journey post, you will know that I spent a few days in Paris before commencing my AIP diet.
Paris, for those of you who have never been, is everything you could ever want from a city. Past meets present at every turn and it does this stylishly and gracefully in a way that other cities cant seem to master. The city is so vast that if you really wish to immerse yourself in all its glory, you need to stay for a week. If you are happy to roam aimlessly and soak in a few sites, hop between cafes and people watch, then a weekend break will do the trick.
I had visited Paris twice previously, but this time round, I was taking my husband on his very first French jaunt. I was so excited to show him this magnificent city that I planned a brutal itinerary that would have punished even the most hardened traveller.
We were staying in the Saint Germain district, which is the perfect combination of classical Paris and contemporary chic. We left our luggage in our hotel and headed straight for lunch. I had pre picked a gluten free, coeliac friendly establishment for every meal during our stay and our first stop was the Galette cafe. To you and I, a galette is a sort of dense, savoury pancake. They are not your standard wheat based crepes, galette's are typically made from buckwheat flour making them naturally gluten free. The menu is a mouth-watering feast for coeliac's and offers a selection of typically decadent, flavoursome, typically French ingredients to adorn your pancake. If you are GF/Coeliac and fancy something authentically French this is a great spot for lunch. I would recommend pre-booking though as it can get busy. If you are on a Paleo or AIP diet however, this is not the best spot for you. It's a good job I had my fill of galette's before I realised the need for the AIP.
We ambled about a busy, yet chilled St. Germain for a while before heading to Notre Dame where we left our mark on the Pont Des Arts with a personalised padlock. We managed to make this gesture just in time as shortly after the locks were cut away due to the structural damage they were causing the bridge. I like to think the hefty lock I purchased was not the straw that broke the camels back.
That evening, to welcome my 30s in in style, I had located an entirely gluten free fine dining restaurant. Somewhere I would feel free to indulge to my hearts content without the persistent underlying fear of being glutened that follows me into every restaurant. The restaurant 'Noglu' (see what they did there?), not only offers fine dining but also separate from this has its own GF bakery. Since my visit, they have also set up shop on Madison Avenue, New York.
Before I go any further, a word about Google maps. Paris is a pretty big place and it's easy to get lost, by I rate my map reading skills quite highly. I have been known to print screenshots of Google maps and carry them around to get me from A to B. This was one of those times. It was the evening of my 30th, I was in Paris, I was hungry and I was heading for the first 100% gluten free restaurant I had ever been to. My reservation was for 19:30, I had been gluten free for two years, strictly low FODMAP for one and now I was on a mission to indulge. But Google maps failed me spectacularly. We zigzagged back and forth across the same busy Parisian street, got lost down alleyways and took direction from people who seemingly weren't giving us directions at all. Merely pointing vaguely into the distance so we would leave them alone.
We were now 15 minutes late for dinner. I could feel the emotion bubbling up inside as we literally went round and round in circles. 15 minutes became half an hour and the bubbling emotions erupted into tears. I was tired, hungry and panicking about where would end up eating and devastated that my birthday plans were ruined. Just as we were about to admit defeat, it appeared, in all its tiny boutique glory. We were there, half an hour late, expecting to be turned away, with enough mascara running down my face that I could be mistaken for Alice Cooper.
The menu was small, but beautiful. We watched them prepare our dishes in an open kitchen and each looked like a work of art. We had starters of cured fish, avocado and salad, followed by a main of duck breast with root vegetables. It was faultless. It wasn't just the food that made it special, half the pleasure came from knowing that it was all safe and there was no risk of cross contamination. And then there was dessert. I hadn't let an ounce of sugar or chocolate pass my lips for a year, but have I mentioned it was my birthday? I opted for the chocolate fondant. My god. It was an eruption of unctuous, velvety rich, molten chocolate encased in the most perfectly soft and moist sponge. I would never have thought gluten free could taste THAT good.
If you find yourself in Paris on a GF diet then coming here isn't even up for debate. What's more, if you are on a Paleo or AIP diet, you will find plenty of choices too. My only recommendation would be that you take a proper map.
On our second day, we were to execute my heinous itinerary with strict military precision. We were basically attempting Paris in a day. An early morning hike took us across Paris to the Eiffel tower, then all the way over to Montmartre and a picnic at the foot of the Sacre Coeur. The afternoon saw us headed to the Louvre. By the time we hit the gallery I had exhausted us both and we had lost the will to live. We queued to get into the Louvre and then only spent half an hour in there before we were ready to drop. We spent more time queuing for the toilets than browsing the art. We decided that if nothing else we needed to see the Mona Lisa before we left and proceeded to sprint around the gallery in a fashion that both resembled a scene from the Da Vinci Code and an episode of challenge Anneka. We somehow managed to make it back to our hotel, weary and defeated. The evening itinerary was to take us to a GF friendly restaurant alongside Notre Dame, but even the thought of having to go anywhere made our legs melt.
We were in a busy district in one of the most fabulous cities in the world. Surely there would be an abundance of local restaurants prepared to cater for me. Armed with my French coeliac card we ditched our evening plans and hit the streets of the local neighbourhood. We aimlessly strolled for about 20 minutes gazing at menus, none of which were looking that friendly. This was proper French cooking, complex and intricate. I daren't ask for anything other than what was on the menu for fear of insulting the cuisine or the chef. We finally came to a restaurant that offered a simple menu of meats, fish and vegetable dishes. Perfect. Immediately upon entering the building a waiter greeted us, except it was less a greeting and more an eyeballing. I requested a table for two and handed him my coeliac card. He scanned it with disdain, as the initial look of bemusement became one of sheer disgust. He looked up at me, handed back my card, and without even the vaguest flicker of compassion said 'NO'. I asked him if that meant we couldn't eat there, he stated that we could not, it wasn't an option and they would not be able to cater for me. And that was that. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. I had never been outright dismissed from a restaurant before. My furious hunger wasn't going to deter me so we kept walking past the same restaurants, almost hoping something might appear that we had missed before. We had previously dismissed an uninspiring looking burger and steak house for its lack of character and soul, but this now looked as good an option as any. Plus I was getting hangry. On entering the bar I handed my coeliac card over to the stoney faced waiter. It came again 'NO' I genuinely could not believe this was happening. I was actually being turned away by restaurants as if I were some kind of contagious rabid monster. Queue some more tears. Now I would like to point out that prior to establishing my perfect diet, I cried frequently. My hormones and emotions were all over the place. But I would also like to point out that it’s perfectly ok to get upset in these situations. Nobody should feel like they are being punished because the have an autoimmune condition or food intolerance.
We headed back to our hotel wondering if my only option was to now order room service and pick through the bits that I could eat, and hugely regretting the decision to ditch our original dinner plans.
Across the street from our hotel was an Italian restaurant - La Giara. Being very much of the mind frame that if you don't ask, you don't get and without any other alternative, I approached the waiter. I presented my coeliac card to a brusque Italian. I knew my chances were slim in a restaurant that makes a great deal of its living from feeding people gluten. He looked up and said ‘yes yes. Of course’ Have you booked a table? The initial euphoria was short lived as I realised we weren’t going to get a seat anyway. I told him no and he huffed and puffed about for a few seconds, before asking us to follow him. He hurriedly seated us at a table. I got the impression we were going to eat, and eat fast. He offered to adapt whatever I fancied from the menu and my faith in humanity was restored. Shortly after being seated, what was an empty restaurant became packed to the rafters. I was so grateful to have been offered a table and more importantly offered some food. I decided to play it safe and requested a steak, which was perfectly cooked and served with some sautéed Mediterranean vegetables, doused in generous lashings of olive oil. I was one happy coeliac. Looking around, this was clearly a popular choice with locals and tourists alike. If you find yourself in the area of St Germain and are looking for a meal then I can safely say these guys are very accommodating and you won't be disappointed.
The following morning was our last so we packed our bags and set out for brunch. Our final GF destination was to be 'Helmut Newcake' an entirely GF patisserie and cafe serving up brunch and lunch. After more fun and games with Google maps, we found it tucked away from the main strip in a predominantly residential area. It is a little ray of sunshine at the end of a fairly non-descript street. Though small, the cafe is bright, airy and welcoming. And much like Noglu, I felt I was in safe hands. The cakes were all lined up in a glass display cabinet like little Christmas tree decorations - they almost looked too good to eat. It was everything you would expect from a Parisian patisserie, minus the accompanying tummy ache.
We sat down to brunch, which was brought to us in stages. An assortment of teas and fruit juice was on offer, a selection of gluten free breads and pastries with preserves, ham, cheese, bacon, smoked salmon, eggs and salad. It was by far the most decadent breakfast I had ever had - coeliac or not. Every mouthful was a pleasure and a total treat. And what’s more the price was totally reasonable given the standard. Deep down inside I knew that I hadn't truly found the answer to my healing and I knew that somewhere down the line I would most likely pay the ultimate price for this moment of food weakness. It is an emotional experience being diagnosed as a coeliac or with any autoimmune condition and for the moment at least I was happy to enjoy eating the way I once did. I suppose it was a bittersweet experience knowing I wouldn't do it again.
And then came the piece de resistance. A little cloud of choux pastry dipped in icing and sprinkled with caramelized toffee, oozing sweet custard. If I had the stomach for it I would have bought up the entire cake counter. But this was more than enough for me and I was truly content.
This is an absolute coeliac heaven if your digestion can take the treats, but even if you are Paleo or AIP, there will be at least some options available to you with the added bonus of knowing the kitchen does not contain a single trace of gluten.
I would highly recommend Paris to anyone - It truly is a magical city. But it is also one of the harder cities to dine in off the cuff with a food sensitivity. It most certainly has options available on a gluten free, Paleo and AIP diet but as always I would exercise caution and pre plan to avoid disappointment.
Travel tips for elimination diets and autoimmune conditions
Oh how I love to travel. A trip aboard is undoubtedly the highlight of my year and helps to break up the monotony of the daily grind. Punctuating the year with little trips keeps me focused, gives me purpose and reminds me what the sun looks like. We all need to make time for regular breaks whether at home or away as they are rewarding, restorative and feed your soul.
More than anywhere else, I adore Europe (please don't mention brexit). I love the people, the culture, the food, the hospitality, the architecture and those hidden mediterranean coves that no one else has found. I admire that they value family and community above all else in a way we have failed to grasp in the UK. The Italians and Spanish will come together with family and friends to luxuriate over prolonged lunches prepared with love and care. Every dish is a celebration of real ingredients. They take their time and understand the importance of sitting back and appreciating the small things in life. In the UK we are in a perpetual rush. We want to eat now, on the move, in between meetings. We are permanently racing against the clock, shrouded in a cloud of stress.
Even planning a break away becomes a taxing event. Our hectic lifestyle so deeply embedded in us that it takes a few days of being away to actually acclimatise and switch off.
When you're stressing over whether a third pair of flip flops are required or trying to recall the safe place where you left the plug adaptors, the last thing you want to worry about is whether or not you're going to be able to feed yourself when you arrive. If you're anything like me, food is a big part of the holiday experience, so trying to dine out abroad with an autoimmune disease or food intolerance can be frustrating and limiting. Particularly if you are on a restricted elimination diet.
After my initial diagnosis it never occurred to me to plan ahead. I ignorantly assumed I would always have plenty of choice when eating out. I was wrong. On one particular day trip to an unfamiliar beach, I arrived fully prepped for a good solid day of bronzing, but without a bite to eat. As the day progressed and the hunger grew, my only source of snacks was to be a vending machine or tiny local shop. The vending machine only dispensed variations of gluten and sugar laden treats so I ventured to the shop. In desperation I purchased some rice cakes, and a pot of peanut butter. This is far from ideal at the best of times, but when you are sat in direct sunlight of 30 degrees plus and your mouth is bone dry, the combination of rice cakes and peanut butter only serves to cement your mouth together for the rest of the day. Not to mention do nothing to quell a ravenous hunger.
To avoid your own rice cake gate, it simply takes a bit of forward planning. These are my top tips:
Research your destination
Read up on your destination country. You should always be able to find gluten free/allergen free options but some countries are much more geared up for this than others. Some are so on it that they have their own coeliac and allergy societies that will list approved restaurants online, others simply don't have a clue and you'll need to exercise more caution. If you know what to expect, you won't be disappointed.
Print a coeliac/allergy card in the language of your destination - these are readily available online. I have found travelling with a foreign coeliac card invaluable as it explains your condition so throughly there is little margin for being accidentally glutened. You should present it to your waiter as soon as you arrive and before you take your seat, that way you will know if they are happy to accommodate you and they can provide you with appropriate choices. If you don't feel confident that they can accommodate you, don't risk it and find an alternative restaurant.
Research the local restaurants before you go and check out the menus. Drop them an e-mail if you can, explaining your allergies and intolerances and ask them if they are prepared to adapt dishes for you. If you have the option, pre-book a table so you know you definitely have some 'safe' meals lined up. If they really look after you then you know you can return there for another meal.
Get on google maps before you go and locate the nearest supermarket or convenience store to your accommodation. Try to visit on your first day to assess what they have and stock up on some basic supplies and emergency snacks.
Get a kitchen
If you are prepared to at least to do a little cooking on holiday, I recommend staying in an apartment or rental property. If you have located a supermarket and you have your own kitchen you will always have options if you are finding yourself short of safe restaurants. This way you can at least prep your own breakfasts, make a picnic for days out and then head to safe restaurants for dinner.
If you are staying in a hotel, inform them in advance of your dietary requirements and find out if there is a fridge in your room for supplies. Hotel breakfasts are typically a gluten fuelled affair and rarely friendly to restricted diets. Don't feel rude asking the hotel in advance if they can get something in specifically for you - they can only say no. If you are on a Paleo or AIP diet you will often find cold meats and fruit available.
Planes, trains and automobiles
Take snacks with you for plane/ train/long car journeys. Plane food is poor at the best of times but when you have food intolerance/digestive condition its barely worth even glancing at the menu. You should be able to carry solid foods in your hand baggage - fruits, vegetables, veggie crisps and nuts. Just nothing in liquid form. If you aren't sure whether you can carry it on board, check with your airline and explain your condition.
Take supplements with you to support your digestion in foreign lands.
Digestive enzymes will help to support the breakdown and assimilation of nutrients.
L-glutamine will soothe inflammation and support a distressed gut.
Probiotics to support gut flora. Optibac have a great range of probiotics and are a UK based company. They have a probiotic specifically for travelling and I have had great results with saccharomyces boulardii when abroad. Whats more, unlike other probiotics they do not require refrigeration. Both will help to prevent diarrhea and unsettled tummies.
This is a hard one when you are on holiday and just want to let go, but autoimmune conditions always benefit from a bit of routine. Now i'm not trying to sound like your mother, but if you don't stray wildly from your usual habits it will be worth it in the long run. Make sure you get plenty of R&R and don't over exert yourself. Try to maintain a reasonable sleep routine, drink plenty of water, get plenty of fresh air and enjoy the sun on your skin. Just a few nights missed sleep, some poor food choices and too much over indulgence will be enough to throw you off kilter and leave you struggling when you return home-sometimes for weeks on end. Enjoy everything in moderation knowing that you will still feel good when you return home.
Pack snacks for any day trips or have a restaurant lined up at your destination. Don't risk rocking up somewhere and hoping they will cater for you. It will inevitably be the one time there's nothing on the menu and you are facing a three hour journey home in a coach hotter than the earths core.
If you are on a very strict elimination diet you will rarely find any options you can eat as they are, but please don't be disheartened. If there is nothing plain on the menu, don't be afraid to ask for something different - I have done this plenty of times and you would be amazed by how accommodating people can be. I've had some of my best restaurant experiences abroad even on a very strict diet. I've had may meals that are totally compliant with the AIP, low FODMAP diet and taste fantastic, yet are so simple. Plus everything tastes better when you don't have to do the washing up.
If you are on a standard Paleo diet, you will generally find a plain fish/meat and veg or salad option.
The hardest thing here is knowing you are on holiday and wanting to indulge. The key is finding the perfect balance between letting go and still remembering to looking after yourself. Just plan ahead,and you won't be disappointed.
This blog tells an ongoing story about me and my journey back to health and happiness. A boho soul always looking for my next European adventure. I am a Coeliac, Yogi, paleo advocate, dreamer, Bon jovi connoisseur, sun worshipper, snuggly jumper wearer and wife to my lovely Paulie.